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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 1998
  • Online publication date: May 2006

5 - Political readings of Scripture

from Part 1 - Lines of approach


It is often suggested that 'political readings' of Scripture are a recent invention, more especially of Marxist or leftist thought. That Scripture did not bear on human life together, on the 'polis', would however have sounded very strange to most Christians before the end of the eighteenth century, as a moment's reflection on the political involvement of the Byzantine and medieval Church will show. Martin Luther's two-kingdom doctrine, which taught that the Church and the state occupied two quite different spheres of responsibility, and which was very much a response to his own political situation, paved the way for the privatization of religion, especially in pietism. Luther himself, however, did not hesitate to draw the most brutal political consequences from Scripture. Where sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Protestantism read the whole Bible as the word of God, pietism focused on the New Testament, and the soul's relation to Jesus. The political context of the Old Testament was thereby lost to view. By 1790, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke is telling us that politics and the pulpit 'have little agreement', a foretaste of countless angry protests when church leaders have criticized political policies.